Sunday, December 13, 2009

Virginia Bans Cul-De-Sacs

This week, The New York Times Magazine is entirely devoted to best ideas of the year. In the Social Sciences category, the magazine editors chose the newly enacted regulations in the Commonwealth of Virginia “to severely limit cul-de-sacs from future developments.”

When Roger Lewis gave a seminar in Columbia back in January he also took aim at the cul-de-sac as a bad planning idea. He likened them to bunches of grapes when viewed from aloft.

One of the benefits of eliminating cul-de-sacs is improving the flow of traffic.

“Virginia expects the new rules to relieve its strained infrastructure budget: through streets are more efficient and cheaper to maintain, and they take pressure off arterial roads that otherwise need to be widened.”

This is one of the centerpieces of General Growths Town Center redevelopment plans. They would alter the current road system in Town Center to create more of a grid pattern.

It is too late to change the cul-de-sac culture in the other nine villages of Columbia but at least in Town Center we can get it right.


Dave W said...

I grew up in Oakland Mills and as a kid, I loved the cul-de-sac. We could play some great games of street hockey without ever having to worry about a car coming by to interrupt our game.

Freemarket said...

I'm agnostic on the cul-de-sac debate, I prefer whatever can be most reasonably be supported by the facts. However, I can't think of any characteristic of development more irrelevant than how it appears from the air. Whether cu-de-sacs look like bunches of grapes or the Mona Lisa from the air does not matter to anyone but airplane passengers.

Anonymous said...

It's a restriction, not a ban, but regardless, we shouldn't be chasing Northern Virginia's models of density or transportation. Sheesh.

You completely miss why cul-de-sacs were a purposeful inclusion in Columbia's design and how they well support more than one of Columbia's original goals.

1. Cul-de-sacs promote a sense of neighborhood and keep neighborhood road speeds lower on them. Where through roads exist, too often we've then seen measures like speed bumps that punish even people who do obey the speed limit and that slow emergency response vehicles, too. And ask just about any realtor - living on a through road is less desirable than living at the end of a cul-de-sac.

2. Cul-de-sacs allow the road design to respect the land, maintaining far more contiguity of open space areas. And many of Columbia's cul-de-sacs do facilitiate through access, only by bikes and pedestrians, not by cars. Remember, we're looking for ways to make Columbia more pedestrian friendly, not just a way to squeeze as much additional car traffic into and through it as possible.

And more through roads mean more connections to arterial roads, which in turn means more traffic lights on those arterial roads, too, resulting in then slowing down everyone. Adding more traffic lights to Town Center's arterial roads and relaxing traffic congestion standards on top of that to cause even longer waits through two or three red light cycles seems to just ignore common sense (unless the goal is to increase the value of developable land in Town Center and not to maintain quality of life for Columbia's existing residents).

The goal shouldn't be to spread transportation load through neighborhoods (something one of this proposal's "supporting documents" says will happen as a result of Town Center traffic congestion encouraging more use of roads.

So, why would anyone promote abandoning cul-de-sacs?

Anonymous said...

The correct pluralization is culs-de-sec:

Anonymous said...

Cul-de-sacs Kill

Sarah said...

Love anon's second point about cul de sacs.

But at the same time, they cut down so much on connectivity. I can look at Columbia from the air(sorry, Freemarket) and see where a car trip could be cut substantially if it wasn't for cul de sacs.

That being said, I get the argument for quiet and slower speeds (Anon), and the idea that it's a good place to play, Dave W. But then again, aren't bump-outs and other traffic control devices (not speed bumps, but maybe speed tables) good for slowing traffic, and community parks a good place for kids to play?

Just tossing some ideas out there.

Summer R said...

I grew up on a cul-de-sac and specifically sought one out when looking for a place to raise my kids. I completely agree with the two point Anonymous made (and Dave W). The idea of cul-de-sacs is not relive congestion on the roads, it's provide a safer place to live and play. No amount of traffic calming on a thru-road will provide the equivalent. It's sad to me that we value people getting places in cars more than we value having safe, community centered neighborhoods.